ANALYSIS: Profile - A big picture CEO who still sweats details Ogilvy CEO Bob Seltzer may have made it to the top, but he’s noT afraid of looking down. This hands-on, can-do manager chats with Larry Dobrow about leadership, challenges and pink cha

The first things Bob Seltzer points out when you enter his spacious office in Ogilvy’s new Manhattan headquarters are the two chairs. ’They’re not official Ogilvy red,’ he says, almost apologetically, and pulls out an ’official’ red-hued notepad to show the reporter the difference.

The first things Bob Seltzer points out when you enter his spacious office in Ogilvy’s new Manhattan headquarters are the two chairs. ’They’re not official Ogilvy red,’ he says, almost apologetically, and pulls out an ’official’ red-hued notepad to show the reporter the difference.

The first things Bob Seltzer points out when you enter his spacious

office in Ogilvy’s new Manhattan headquarters are the two chairs.

’They’re not official Ogilvy red,’ he says, almost apologetically, and

pulls out an ’official’ red-hued notepad to show the reporter the

difference.



He’s right, of course; the pinkish chairs look like something out of a

1960s sitting room. And, as Seltzer puts it in a moment of thorough

understatement, he is ’not an art-deco kind of guy.’



Seltzer, Ogilvy’s CEO for two years, is both a details man and a

big-picture visionary - often within the same sentence. As Seltzer

enthuses about the continuing globalization of Ogilvy’s business, he

stops for a brief instant to excitedly point out a river view that can

only be seen from a specific point in his office. Then, quickly, it’s

back to an in-depth discussion of the agency’s fortunes overseas.



’I don’t suffer boredom and frustration well,’ he says later. ’If

there’s a problem, I like to jump in and fix it.’



Judging by the way Ogilvy’s business has thrived during Seltzer’s tenure

- dollars 79 million in global PR income last year, and dollars 100

million-plus expected in 1999 - his charges have taken to Seltzer’s

hard-charging personality.



’There’s a great sense of purpose and momentum,’ says one Ogilvy

staffer.



Seltzer laughs at this assessment. ’What he really meant to say was that

the idea of ’we can’t do this’ doesn’t exist in the world of Bob

Seltzer.’



Seltzer brings up a comment from one of his annual 360-degree reviews,

in which employees below and above him in the Ogilvy food chain were

asked to evaluate his performance. ’The person said, ’Bob’s driving a

bus and wants everybody on board. But if you don’t want a seat on the

bus, get out of the way.’ ’ Does this type of approach ever chafe

employees?



Seltzer pauses before answering, then says, ’In any service business, if

you don’t have a results-oriented approach, you won’t succeed. I point

to the path, and everyone helps us move down the path. It should never

be a ’this is what Bob wants’ situation. I like people who challenge me

intellectually.’



Seltzer, 47, is a classic poacher turned gamekeeper, and still has the

journalist’s testiness. He received an advanced journalism degree from

Syracuse University in 1973, meeting his wife-to-be in the process. He

then toiled as a Gannett reporter for five years, where the

two-deadline-per-day pressure fed his high-energy disposition. ’I was

the biggest S.O.B.



to PR people that ever existed,’ he says with pride. ’I was a typical

journalist that way.’



Diving in headfirst



In 1979, he took the plunge into PR, accepting a job with roofing

manufacturer GAF. At first, it was not the best marriage of personality

and profession.



’I like to think of that as the year of my nap,’ he jokes. ’Their

attitude was ’if a plant blows up, we need you. If not, go see a double

feature.’’ While Seltzer is quick to add that his experience at GAF is

not representative of what corporate PR pros are doing today, the

one-year stint clearly depressed him.



He moved over to the agency side later that year, going to work for

Richard Weiner’s eponymous firm in New York. Following a brief stay at

Creamer Dickson Basford in 1981, he moved over to Lobsenz-Stevens and

rose to the level of vice president. ’Agency PR back then was so

different,’ he recalls. ’You basically worked with whatever showed up.

No strategy was involved.’



Believing that he had exhausted his opportunities at Lobsenz-Stevens,

Seltzer returned to Weiner in 1984. Following a host of transactions

that ultimately resulted in Weiner’s agency becoming a part of Porter

Novelli, Seltzer was charged with creating a national healthcare

practice. Of course, for a former journalist with no formal health or

medical background, this proved somewhat of a challenge. But Seltzer

took it in stride. ’I knew PR, I was a smart guy. How terrible could it

be?’ When Bill Novelli left PN in 1990, Seltzer was put in charge of the

agency’s New York office.



Weiner, still a presence at PN, remains proud of what Seltzer has

become.



When asked what has made his former charge a success, Weiner snaps,

’You’ve met him, right?’ Weiner claims he pegged Seltzer as a talent

right from the start. ’There’s a certain kind of sleeves-rolled-up,

hands-on manager who, if needed, could do almost everything himself and

do it well,’ he says. ’That’s Bob.’



After growing revenue in the New York office from dollars 5 million to

dollars 23 million, Seltzer left Porter Novelli in 1997 when the WPP

Group came calling. ’It was rare to have a chance to create something

from ground zero, which is basically what we did,’ he says. ’Martin

(Sorrell, WPP chief executive) was very clear that he didn’t want us to

be a replica of (sister agency) H&K.’ Despite often competing with the

agency for business, he remains close with several of his PN friends.

Which is not to say that Seltzer is above using his knowledge of the

firm for competitive advantage. ’Obviously, I know how they’re going to

approach certain things,’ he says with a laugh.



Still on the journey



Seltzer clearly enjoys his role as a CEO of a global firm - ’I like

being able to set a tone’ - but misses several aspects of his old

position.



’At PN, a lot could be done by dint of personality,’ he says. ’But as a

CEO, do I know what they’re doing every day in Malaysia? It’s

impossible.’ To that end, Seltzer has accepted that he can’t control

everything. ’I like the feeling that every day I can make a list of

things to do and cross them off one by one,’ he explains. ’Here, the

list will never, ever be completely crossed off.’



One thing he has been able to cross off the list, however, are the pink

chairs. ’Soon to be a thing of the past,’ he promises. And when asked

where he sees himself in the near and distant future, Seltzer

immediately points past the chairs to his desk and says, ’Over there.’

The Bob Seltzer bus is many miles away from its final destination.



BOB SELTZER - President and ceo, Ogilvy PR Worldwide



1973-1978: Reporter for Gannett Publications



1979: First agency experience at Richard Weiner



1982: Lobsenz-Stevens, rises to vice president



1984: Returns to Weiner’s shop, which Porter Novelli buys in 1986



1987: Charged with creating PN’s national healthcare practice



1990: General manager, PN’s NY office



1997: Ogilvy president and CEO.



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